HR has to be willing to let go of past practices: Josh Bersin

In the second part of our exclusive interview, Josh Bersin talks about the outlook for HR technology, and how HR can evolve beyond service delivery.
By: | January 18, 2019

Check out the first part of our exclusive interview with Josh Bersin: Josh Bersin gets real on HR


Much of Bersin’s work these days is into the capabilities and potential of HR technology – a billion dollar market that’s only set to grow further in the coming years.

Bersin himself has been kept busy tracking some 1,400 HR technology startups all over the world.

Nonetheless, he adds that HR technology is a very challenging domain. “It is way harder than people realise,” he says.

“There was a belief probably four to six years ago, that if you bought a new cloud-based HR platform, everything was going to get better, and all of your problems were going to go away.

“But what people are realising now is that it’s much more complicated than that.”

There are new tools for everything under the HR sun, from training to engagement to compensation.

In this complex framework, organisations – big ones, in particular – have to take an architectural view in managing these different platforms; with an understanding that they might have to pivot in another direction once again.

“HR departments are really being forced to manage the technology ecosystem in a much more strategic way. You can’t just buy one tool and say, ‘I’m done’.”

There’s also the fact that in the consumer world, employees are used to having sleek, exciting digital experiences.

“But in most companies, the technology experience at work is two orders of magnitude worse than the one at home,” Bersin notes.

“It’s easier to go home and get on YouTube and learn something than it is to go and log in to the corporate learning management system and find something. So that’s something else that needs to get fixed, and a lot of money is going into that right now,” he says.


“In most companies, the technology experience at work is two orders of magnitude worse than the one at home. It’s easier to go home and get on YouTube and learn something than it is to go and log in to the corporate learning management system and find something. ” – Josh Bersin


Beyond service delivery

Most employees are aware of HR from the transactional standpoint – for a start, it’s the department that takes care of the formalities of recruitment and making sure everyone is paid on time.

But technology increasingly automates many of these services – what is to remain of the humans of ‘human resources’?

Bersin doesn’t mince his words. “If you’re not working in a cross-functional team in HR, and you’re in a service role, and all you’re doing is answering questions, your job is probably not going to be around for that much longer,” he says.

“The HR function is becoming much more of a consulting and design department, and less of a service delivery department.”

This story first appeared in the December-January issue of HRM Magazine Asia. Read it here.

Individually, HR professionals have to now become two things, he says.

“Number One: they have to become avid learners, and they have to be very willing to let go of past practices.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. It’s healthy to know about the history of why things are done the way they are, he says.

“But it’s equally critical to experiment and investigate what high performing companies are doing today, versus what they were doing two years ago.”

HR professionals should also not be afraid to push back on their business counterparts, he adds.

“Most business people are in their jobs because they’re good at what they do, whether that’s sales or marketing or operations. But they may never have thought about the people side of their job as much as we have – whereas that’s all we do.

“Today, more than ever, the HR department has to go toe to toe with business leaders on a lot of the transformations that companies are going through, and that requires a level of confidence and boldness that I think a lot of HR people want, but maybe don’t quite have yet,” he says.

Internationally-renowned thought leader and industry analyst, Josh Bersin will be a keynote speaker at the first-ever HR Festival Asia, brought to you by the combined experience of HR Technology Conference & Exposition (US) and HR Summit (Asia).

“I’m really excited about making my way down to Singapore in May, 2019,” Bersin says. “I think some of the things going on in Asia are some of the most creative and innovative talent practices because the economy there is growing so fast. People are inventing things there that other parts of the world can learn from.”

Bersin will deliver the closing keynote address to the Festival. Drawing on data gathered from throughout Asia and the globe he’ll explain how the workforce is changing in this part of the world, and the ways employers themselves will need to evolve.

Bersin will also be hosting an intensive workshop on the final day of HR Festival, taking participants on a deep dive into the future of work and the new opportunities available for employers to embrace.

Don’t miss out on your chance to see and hear from Bersin, along with more than 100 other speakers and presentation sessions. For more information, and the chance to lock in Early Bird pricing, visit